Why is it so hard to let go of control?

As a leader you would have been exposed to a vast array of books and articles and about employee engagement and people centred management as the optimum leadership style. In theory, there has been a shift away from the command-and-control style of leadership to a much more people-centred management approach. Yet in organisations around the world, the more old-fashioned controlling approach to leadership is still the dominant one. 

Leaders today are exposed to a plethora of management theories and best practice leadership techniques. We know when people feel more empowered and trusted, they are more engaged and you have a happier workforce.The theory is all there and we know all about it. Yet in practice, adopting a people-cantered leadership style means relinquishing control to others. It means trusting employees will not abuse that responsibility. This is not easy to do for most leaders. When things are busy and stressful, it’s human nature to narrow our field of vision and revert to controlling behaviour that feels safe and less risky to us. Have you been in a situation when it just feels more reassuring to do the job yourself rather than hand it over to someone in your team? We all have. It takes confidence and a great deal of trust to hand over control to others when ultimately what they do and how well they perform, is your responsibility. 

The repercussions of not relinquishing control. 

We want to have employees who are engaged and productive. We want a team of people who are innovative, creative, outside-of the-box thinkers. We want to have driven employees who believe in our business and what we do and who work to their full potential. The problem is though, you won’t have people doing any of these things if they feel disrespected and distrusted by their managers and frustrated by the fact that they are not given more freedom to their work. In fact, the skilful, innovative and creative thinkers won’t stay in jobs where they feel controlled and distrusted. 

Furthermore, creativity and innovation is eliminated in controlling workplaces. Staff who are constantly micromanaged come to expect input and the constant monitoring, checking and anticipating ‘corrections’ to their work. As such, they lose confidence in their own abilities to do their job. They lose faith in themselves as it’s clear their manager doesn’t have faith in them. This only confirms to the untrusting leader that they were right in not trusting and the micromanagement continues. Untrusting leaders dedicate too much of their time to checking and monitoring the work of others to the point that is begins to interfere with people getting on and doing their work. This in effect can cause tension amongst the team as they don’t want to be constantly interrupted and in the position of reassuring an overbearing manager of their progress and ability to do their job. They often don’t have the chance to get into a state of flow and certainly don’t have the best opportunity to really shine and “own” the task. 

How can you be a less controlling leader? 

Firstly, you need to be conscious of your tendency to want to control things. Make a greater effort to step back from the day-to-day tasks of employees and set up times to formally ‘check in’ on their progress, if you have to. Leave it to WIP meetings to see where they are up to or to add your feedback. Rather than demanding details, maybe just say “how’s it progressing?” or “Let me know if you need my input, otherwise I’ll leave it in your capable hands”. 

Embrace a culture where mistakes are ok. If you accept that mistakes might happen and that people will learn from mistakes and do better next time, you might be more inclined to relinquish control than if you are attached to the idea that mistakes are bad and cannot happen. Having a culture that encourages a strong sense of accountability is healthy. But accountabilities become confused with an over-bearing and controlling leader. If a manager makes him or herself so much part of a task, it takes away some, if not all, of the feeling of accountability of the staff member and it becomes unclear who actually ‘owns’ the task and who is accountable for it.

Trust is a two-way street. You need to earn the trust of your employees and earn the right to lead them, just as much as they need to earn your trust. Neither of you will develop trust without you actually being vulnerable enough to hand over control. Give your team the opportunity to prove themselves and to shine. And if mistakes are made, there is the opportunity to learn and grow and improve. 

Managers today should be very conscious of their leadership styles. Whilst some situations require a command-and-control approach, most businesses thrive under people-centred leadership styles when they relinquish control to their employees. 

Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’ll share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate to get in touch today.

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